Tag Archives: sandy

At Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Mother Knows Best

A new video from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offers an overview of the coastline and salt marsh restoration at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge on Delaware Bay. “Building a Stronger Coast: Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge” is a behind-the-scenes look at how engaged partners and visionary science came together to improve conditions for wildlife and the local community.

After Hurricane Sandy breached the beach at Prime Hook, spilling salt water into an area long managed as a freshwater marsh, refuge staff decided to work with Mother Nature to build a stronger coast.

“We know that we’re going to see more-frequent intense storms,” said Refuge Manager Al Rizzo, “so we didn’t want to put it back into a situation that was vulnerable to the next storm.” Credit: Citizen Racecar

The $38-million project, supported by federal funding for Hurricane Sandy recovery, rebuilt 4,000 acres of marsh and one mile of dune and barrier beach over 18 months. The restoration, one of the largest and most complex of its kind on the Atlantic Coast, enhances habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife. It also makes the coast more resilient to future storms and sea-level rise.

A suction-cutterhead dredge expands the width and depth of one of the primary channels in the marsh. Credit: USFWS

The refuge is an important stopover site for migratory shorebirds, including federally threatened rufa red knots, which rest and refuel there during their long migrations along the Atlantic Coast. Delaware Bay also has the world’s largest population of horseshoe crabs, which spawn in the spring. The birds can eat their fill of the crab eggs, then be on their way north.

For decades, refuge staff managed the marsh as freshwater habitat for ducks and geese by blocking tidal flow from the bay. Hurricane Sandy flooded the marsh with sea water, killing the freshwater plants.

After closely studying state-of-the-art computer models, managers decided restoring the marsh to its natural state was the way to go. It is open once again to the ebb and flow of the tides, which will let salt-marsh plants and wildlife return.

“The project is an investment that is already paying off,” said U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), who is featured in the film. “The dunes are holding up, the marsh is rebounding, and wildlife is thriving. I hope other areas of our country — and the world — can learn from this success.” Credit: Citizen Racecar

The restored marsh will buffer the effects of storms and sea-level rise, protecting private property and public infrastructure, such as roads. Acting like a giant sponge, the marsh will absorb water to reduce flooding. It will also offer recreation, such as fishing, hiking, and wildlife watching. A new low, wide dune and barrier beach offer a natural defense against rising water.

Managers will use storm-tide sensors, placed in the marsh, to gauge the project’s success. The sensors measure wave height, speed, force, and extent during storms. The information will help scientists create better models for storm surge and flood forecasting, as well as understand how restored marshes spread out storm-tide and wave energy.

“Federal funding for Hurricane Sandy recovery has provided us with a window of opportunity to protect this fragile marsh, while also helping protect our coastal bay-front communities from flooding,“ said Delaware Sen. Gary Simpson (R-Milford), who is interviewed in the video. Credit: Citizen Racecar

Returning the coastline to a more natural state makes it a healthier place for both wildlife and people to live — proving that sometimes, Mother really does know best.

View the video here.

Saving the Horseshoe Crabs for the Birds

Sometime in mid-May, Beth Freiday hopes to see New Jersey’s bayside beaches turn a dusky olive color.

“At the peak of horseshoe crab spawning season, the beaches are almost green from the quantity of eggs and crabs covering the sand,” explains Freiday, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist based in New Jersey.

While green beaches are an interesting sight in their own right, it’s what they signify that Freiday cares about – an abundance of crab eggs for migratory shorebirds like the threatened rufa red knot to feast on during their stopover in the Delaware Bay.

The beaches along Delaware Bay are some of the most critically important stopover sites for migratory shorebirds, many of which are undergoing alarming declines. Without a jumbo snack of horseshoe crab eggs, these birds might not make it on their long-distance migration.

To help, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working at numerous sites along the Delaware Bay to restore beaches and improve conditions for spawning horseshoe crabs, thereby helping support migratory shorebirds.

Horseshoe crabs spawning in Delaware Photo credit: Gregory Breese/USFWS

Horseshoe crabs spawning in Delaware Photo credit: Gregory Breese/USFWS

Fortifying Beaches

At one such site, Freiday is coordinating a partnership with the American Littoral Society and others to restore a 1.5-mile stretch of New Jersey shoreline severely damaged by Hurricane Sandy. These beaches saw a loss of 2 to 3 feet of sand, with the sand pushed so far above the high tide line that spawning crabs could no longer reach it.

To remedy this, the partners are trucking in sand from a local sand mine and moving it onto the beach with a bulldozer, using lightweight pieces of equipment to spread it. Work started at the end of March at Cooks and Kimbles Beaches in Cape May County and is expected to last until mid-April.

All told, approximately 12,000 cubic yards of sand will be spread across the two beaches, which together span 5.5 acres.

“We’re very careful of ecological and historical resources at the sites,” says Freiday, noting that the most environmentally appropriate methods are used for replacing the sand.

While Hurricane Sandy initially wiped out these beaches, Freiday says the problem is persistent.

“Since Sandy, we have had some destructive winter storms that move sand from the beach into the adjacent marsh,” she explains. “This leaves not enough sand on the beach for crabs to spawn, and the sand that is moved into the marsh is no longer accessible for crab spawning.”

It might be something to get used to with a changing climate. The mid-Atlantic Coast is expected to experience some of the fastest rates of sea-level rise in the United States, with more intense storms like Hurricane Sandy battering coastlines.

Restoring Cooks Beach in New Jersey Photo credit: Elizabeth Freiday

Restoring Cooks Beach in New Jersey Photo credit: Elizabeth Freiday

Connecting the Dots

Horseshoe crabs are not endangered, though they are under harvest restrictions in New Jersey and Delaware. They experienced a rapid decline from overharvesting in the 1990s. Then came Hurricane Sandy, which demolished 70 percent of New Jersey’s key horseshoe crab habitat.

Since horseshoe crabs don’t start breeding until at least 9 years of age, population increases might not be noticeable for a while. But the good news is they produce upwards of 100,000 eggs in a season – as long as they have access to the sand habitat they need.

Freiday’s team is planning to have all the sand spread and ready for spawning horseshoe crabs by April 15.

“We don’t know exactly when the horseshoe crabs will come up onto the beaches to lay eggs – it all depends on water temperature,” explains Freiday. “We usually estimate May 1, but this year the water is warmer so it could be sooner. We want to be ready.”

After the horseshoe crabs come in to lay eggs, the migratory shore birds will show up – hopefully by the thousands. And the tourists soon follow.

Ultimately, restoring these beaches will not just benefit horseshoe crabs and migratory shorebirds, but also the people who live, work and recreate here. Benefits to people include greater protection from storm surges, improved beach areas for public recreation, and the economic benefits of beach and wildlife-related ecotourism, valued at $522 million in New Jersey’s Cape May County alone.

Endangered rufa red knot at Mispillion Harbor, Delaware. Credit: Gregory Breese/USFWS

Endangered rufa red knot at Mispillion Harbor, Delaware. Credit: Gregory Breese/USFWS

Horseshoe crab eggs provide a vital food source for rufa red knot and other shorebirds Photo credit: Gregory Breese/USFWS

Horseshoe crab eggs provide a vital food source for rufa red knot and other shorebirds Photo credit: Gregory Breese/USFWS

This restoration work is being funded by the Department of the Interior through the Disaster Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2013. Partners include the Fish and Wildlife Service, the American Littoral Society, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the Army Corps of Engineers. Additional work has been coordinated with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation NFWF and the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

Increased use of renewable energy is a priority for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Credit: USFWS.

Self-Empowered

Oct. 29, 2012: Hurricane Sandy knocked out power to an estimated 8.1 million individual locations in 17 states, as far west as Michigan. Outages affected some areas for weeks, and often more remote locations – like those that tend to encompass wildlife refuges – remained without for longer or were forced to rely on whatever backup power generators they had on hand.

Power Line damage at Target Rock National Wildlife Refuge on Long Island. Credit: Todd Weston/USFWS.

Power Line damage at Target Rock National Wildlife Refuge on Long Island. Credit: Todd Weston/USFWS.

In the New York-New Jersey region, even some facilities that had generators found themselves faced with unexpected challenges like post-hurricane fuel rationing. This lasted an average of two weeks in the metro area and limited power supply, in many cases, to however much fuel had already been stockpiled. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Staff from the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Basking Ridge, N.J. (only 25 miles from Times Square) found themselves driving as far as Pennsylvania to buy diesel for their generators. Other Fish and Wildlife refuges suffered in darkness for days after the super storm as well, including the Canaan Valley refuge in West Virginia, which was buried in over three feet of wet snow—a condition that did nothing to help keep power lines up in the region.

In response to extreme circumstances like those that occurred in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, backup and solar power system installations are planned for 18 U.S. Fish and Wildlife facilities throughout the Northeast region, including 17 refuges and the National Conservation Training Center in Shepardstown, West Virginia. The power projects form a unique subset of the Service’s Sandy recovery efforts—one that focuses keenly on resilience and preparation for projected future storms. They represent a substantial investment by the U.S. Department of the Interior in reliable emergency resources, and reaffirm its commitment to increasing federal facilities’ utilization of renewable energy sources.

After initially contracting out design work for a few planned power systems in Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey, Service engineers Mark Orton and Chuck Gess were tapped from within in an effort to speed up design and approval processes and save taxpayer dollars. The decision proved to be a good one, and now the power projects are nearing something of a critical mass, with many locations looking at installation by the summer of 2014.

Backup generators and photovoltaic solar power systems will be installed this year at 17 national wildlife refuges and the National Conservation Training Center.

Backup generators and photovoltaic solar power systems will be installed this year at 17 national wildlife refuges and the National Conservation Training Center.

According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service facility management specialist Kevin Ortyl, sites equipped with backup and solar power proved invaluable in the aftermath of the super storm.

“Those stations that had backup power during Hurricane Sandy, including those at Long Island and Rhode Island refuges, were a great resource for their local communities,” says Ortyl. “Their headquarters and offices were used to coordinate emergency responses, provide logistical support, make phone calls and even offer cooked meals and showers.”

Increased use of renewable energy is a priority for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Credit: USFWS.

Increased use of renewable energy is a priority for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Credit: USFWS.

Photovoltaic (PV) solar power systems also represent an important part of the Service’s mission, he says.

“Solar PV and the need for alternative energy have always been important to FWS. The more we are off the grid and can lessen our carbon footprint, the better, and installing more solar PV is an ongoing opportunity to achieve this. Using a renewable resource such as the sun aids in our continuing effort to tread lightly.”

In addition to reducing the carbon output of Service facilities, solar PV will also save taxpayer dollars. At the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Cambridge, Maryland, solar PV systems that Mark Orton designed are being installed at two buildings, and between them will save the refuge an estimated $6,210 in annual utility bills. Gess says that the systems he’s been designing will offset 40 percent of a building’s load (on average), though at least one PV system at Rhode Island’s Beane Point will provide 100 percent of its needs and will be totally off-grid.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been working to repair and restore public lands on the Atlantic coast since Hurricane Sandy impacted them in October of 2012. To learn more about the Service’s ongoing efforts to facilitate habitat recovery and build coastal resilience that helps protect communities, please visit http://www.fws.gov/hurricane/sandy.